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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Behind the scenes of student housing

NICHOLAS CHAN / AGGIE

A look into the life of an RA

In every residential building on campus behind the door marked “resident advisor” lives a student who pulls the strings that make dorm life possible. UC Davis resident advisors (RAs) juggle an array of responsibilities, from resident issues to student housing duties to academic obligations.

“It’s always scary getting into freshman year when you don’t know anyone,” said Mackenzie Miller, a third-year biological sciences major and RA of Thoreau Hall in Cuarto. “[The RA job] is focused on your residents and building a community on your floor [and] trying to foster friendships between them […] so they get to know each other.”

In order to be an accessible resource for students, RAs live in the dorms with their residents and are trained in topics ranging from communication to diversity to social justice. RAs also perform regular duties that include weekly on-call nights, when they go on rounds to survey the residence halls and conduct one-on-one “knock-and-talk” meetings to check on the wellbeing of residents.

“On rounds, […] we have to walk through […] every single hallway,” said Brooke McMahon, a second-year environmental chemistry major and RA of Tercero’s Currant Hall. “You have awkward encounters with people in the bathroom and then you end up chatting in the bathroom. Being on call […] is important, because you have to have someone here that’s […] responsible enough to take care of people when they need to be taken care of at obscure hours of the night.”

For Miller, being an RA in Cuarto is a slightly different experience because of the suite-style living situation. Miller shares a suite with other residents and works in a partner community where she splits the responsibilities of her floor with another RA.

“[Cuarto] can present a bit more of a challenge because you’re unable to knock directly on a resident’s door,” Miller said. “It’s a bit of a different dynamic of having two [roommates] living together and then also [with] suitemates. I think it has definitely improved my ability to work in a team with other people.”

Many residents do not realize that apart from on-call nights and knock-and-talks, RAs  are also required to put time and effort into detailed administrative tasks. They plan and host socials for their residents such as movie nights, tie-dyeing, mug decorating and karaoke. For academic purposes, they also put on Residence Hall Advising Team programs that are focused on schedule-building, declaring and switching majors and other types of academic advising.

“It [is] a great feeling when you put on a social event for the residents and you have a really high turnout and the residents genuinely seem to enjoy the event,” said Nick Irvin, a second-year comparative literature major and RA of the Paloma building in Segundo’s Regan Hall. “You, as an RA, put in a lot of effort to make that happen. It really feels good.”

The job is considered a full-time position at 20 hours a week, but it can require more or less time depending on issues with residents. In return for their time and effort, RAs are compensated with free housing in the residence halls and a free meal plan in the dining commons.

“It can be a life-changing experience,” said Chuck Huneke, assistant director of the Cuarto Residence Hall Area. “It is very different from a typical student position. You can work in the ARC or the library […] and have wonderful experiences, but I think [the RA job] is a unique position in that it allows you to work with a breadth of issues.”

Because RAs are also students, the balance between their academic lives and their job responsibilities can be challenging, especially if they participate in other extracurricular activities, all of which must be approved by Student Housing.

“It’s a pretty time-consuming job,” Miller said. “You live where you work. It’s [the RA’s] job to help [the residents], but you have to be able to know your boundaries. You […] want to be there for them, [but] you have to be flexible.”

An RA’s job is to advise residents, as the title suggests, but in addition to on-call duties and social or academic program planning, they also attend a weekly staff meeting and, in the fall, a mandatory class that expands on topics from their two weeks of training prior to the school year starting.

“The RA position can take some time,” Huneke said. “Trying to balance that with a social life […] can be an ongoing challenge. We talk to [the RAs] regularly about drawing healthy boundaries; in order for them to be successful as an RA we need them to be successful as a person.”

Despite the heavy responsibilities, McMahon said that working as an RA is rewarding in the friendships it builds and the community it fosters.

“It warms my heart to see all of [the residents] becoming friends,” McMahon said. “The greatest reward is […] just seeing how all of them have changed […] from the beginning of the year to now, […and] the way that they do things and see things and interact with people. That’s very cool.”

From the experience, RAs also learn skillsets and habits useful for everyday life and future occupations.

“A big reason why I wanted to become an RA was to enrich my professional development a bit,” Irvin said. “I think there are aspects of leadership and organizational skills that will absolutely come in handy later on in whatever career I decide to do.”

According to McMahon the unexpected surprises that come from interacting with residents are a major part of the experience.

“[Residents] do a lot of funny things,” McMahon said. “There was one boy […] that would wait for us in the bathrooms for when we would do rounds. He would wait to scare us or have full on conversations with us from inside of the stall.”

Despite the hard behind-the-scenes work that the position requires, McMahon, Miller and Irvin find the job a worthwhile experience.

“Connecting with these people is a necessary part of the job, and it’s a really rewarding part as well,” Irvin said. “I’m pleasantly surprised by how much that part has ingrained itself in me.”
Written by: Allyson Tsuji — features@theaggie.org

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